I’m still buzzing off Sunday, you know. Not just a Liverpool win, not just a brilliant game of football, but the manor in which The Reds played being everything you want from your team. Quality, skill, effort tenacity, confidence….it was all on display in abundance. Everyone from 1-11 could be proud of themselves leaving the pitch….well 2-11 at least.
On The Anfield Wrap podcast on Monday five people were asked for their man of the match, and five different answers were given, which tells the story of a complete team performance. However, for me, one man encapsulates the five assets listed above more than any other in the team at the moment. Roberto Firmino, who marked a fine season with a perfect performance when the eyes of the world were watching.
I was worried about Firmino when his mate left this month. He talked about being heartbroken and I was concerned something so unsettling as to lose a close friend a long way from home might have a knock on effect on his form. No chance, it turned out. Bobby was everywhere on Sunday, including right on top of John Stones.
Roberto Firmino sets the tone for this Liverpool side like other famous number nine’s have in the past. Leading from the front in every way. It is strange now to think that in the summer there was plenty of debate on whether he should be leading the line at all. Many Liverpool fans looked on enviously as top four rivals spent huge amounts on big name centre forwards. Firmino is out performing them all, not just in terms of goals and assists, but everything else he offers.
Firmino wins the ball for the first on Sunday and is too strong for the second too. He’s a nuisance from start to finish for any central defender, who, after 90 minutes playing against him, must be begging for a week with a stationary, selfish “traditional” centre forward. His hold up play has improved immeasurably, to the extent he is a real out ball when Liverpool are under pressure. His ability to control any ball and find space and time in crowded areas allows Liverpool to maintain possession and get up the pitch. He must be a joy to play with. He’s certainly a joy to watch.
His recent performances have inevitably led to discussions on whether he is highly thought of enough outside of Anfield. It is a curious debate I have never really understood. Football players are there to represent the club and their supporters. If we all love him, surely that is enough? Who cares if Darren from Milton Keynes thinks he’s not prolific enough? Besides, people outside of Liverpool liking our players usually results in them joining Barcelona, so I am quite happy for them to go under the radar, thank you very much.
Firmino will probably be used to a lack of fanfare. He was never the Brazilian wonderkid as a young boy, like Coutinho was. In fact he played in the second tier, starting out as a defensive midfielder. Which explains his tackling, I suppose. His first move to Europe was an unfashionable one. He wasn’t capped for Brazil until November 2014, despite being the fourth highest scorer in the Bundesliga in 2013/14, and still has only 18 caps.
His manager doesn’t care either. In today’s press conference Klopp said “I don’t think that it’s possible that somebody could get more credit, compliments, praise, whatever you want to say, as Roberto gets from us.” Translation, we know he’s brilliant so that is all that matters. This is Liverpool. We don’t need approval from outside.
If Firmino does set the tone for this Liverpool side, than plenty followed on Sunday. Not least Andy Robertson, who gave a very pleasing old-fashioned performance at left back against two of the best wingers in world football (they swapped. I think Sterling was sick of getting volleyed.) Robertson had to bide his time to get into this Liverpool side and he looks like he spent it running around tackling people in the street.
The ovation he got after a 70 yard run closing down everything he could in a light blue shirt, including a few lads in the away end and some subs warming up, showed that football fans are basic bastards really. Standard and skill levels rise in football all the time, but still nothing pleases us like a lad chasing after the ball like a dog in the park. But he wasn’t just effort, there was a determination to win his battles, no matter how highly rated the opposition, that was refreshing too.
He’s a lad who will go far. It is a team that will hopefully go far too. They are starting to look like a team who are on the cusp of something special. But, as history has proven, especially Liverpool’s, the last step is always the hardest.